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Indicative possibilities of reframing strategic engagement


Poetic Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran (Part #4)


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  1. Negotiations are typically framed as a "war of words" -- "jaw jaw" instead of "war war". The question here is whether any such "war of words" might be "upgraded" from the binary logic by which it is currently informed. An indication is offered by Frederick Sommer: Poetic logic is the sensuous apprehension of what we do not yet understand in the presence of reality (1984). This is arguably worthy of further investigation given the apparent inadequacies of current negotiation logic.

  2. A significant outcome of any poetic exploration might well be the highlighting of more fruitful metaphors within which future interactions could be articulated. These might rise about the limitations of binary logic and its framing of a "clash of civilizations" (In Quest of Uncommon Ground: beyond impoverished metaphor and the impotence of words of power, 1997; Innovative Global Management through Metaphor, 1989)

  3. Dialogue through poetry, lyrics and folk tales in many cultures makes extensive use of metaphor. A question as yet to be explored is whether dialogue between extreme positions can be conducted through metaphor -- in contrast to making occasional use of it. This notably applies to "interfaith dialogue" which is what is typically implicit in the dialogue between clashing worldviews (Guidelines towards Dialogue through Metaphor, 1993; Guidelines for Critical Dialogue between Worldviews, 2006)

  4. There is a case for the United Nations, perhaps through UNESCO, to give greater visibility to the strategic implications of dialogue with, and between, cultures through such an appreciation of aesthetics and the metaphors that it engenders. A little known publication perhaps justifies this argument (Wit and Wisdom of the United Nations, 1961). Is it the case that Islam is, to some degree, aesthetically offended by the aesthetics of the West? Is the "clash of civilizations" primarily a clash of aesthetics -- to be compared within the Western culture with that between the musical classics and pop?

  5. There would seem to be a strong case for an historical review of the manner in which poetry (and song) had influenced policy-making, notably through its appreciation by negotiating leaders -- or in relation to their followers (Poetry-making and Policy-making: arranging a marriage between Beauty and the Beast, 1993). A more specific case is made with respect to the widely appreciated Japanese poetic form (Ensuring Strategic Resilience through Haiku Patterns: reframing the scope of the "martial arts" in response to strategic threats, 2006).

  6. A case for the potential role of any aesthetic reframing in governance has been argued speculatively in Aesthetics of Governance in the Year 2490 (1990).

  7. The specific role of song in the articulation of agreements arising from any negotiation has been argued, with precedents, in A Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? (2006). The case for the relevance of such reframing with respect to the Irish crisis over the Lisbon vote was made subsequently (Reframing the EU Reform Process -- through Song responding to the Irish challenge to the Lisbon Treaty, 2008) -- calling upon the merits of Carla Bruni

  8. With respect to the aesthetics of the religions reinforcing the clash of civilizations, one approach is to review the styles favoured for the collective celebration of individual religions -- and the manner in which these may pose problems for their appreciation by others (Aesthetic Challenge of Interfaith Dialogue as Exemplified by Meditation, 1997).

  9. Efforts are made to celebrate inaugural events, whether the opening sessions of a conference or the visit of a leader, through poetry (or song). This has been done with appreciation even in the USA. Potentially of equal, if not greater, interest is the possibility of celebrating the closure of any conference or negotiation with a poetic (or sung) adaptation of the conclusions -- if only to enhance media diffusion and popular comprehension. A striking example of this is the eminent economist and peace activist Kenneth Boulding, author of a number of collections of poetry, who was wont to summarize the debates of academic conferences he attended in precisely thos way -- the poem being included in the conference procedings.

  10. In preparing these notes from the land of the All Blacks, renowned for their much-publicized introductory haka -- one is readily reminded of the role of that dance of engagement in encounters between Maori tribes. Their approach points to another possibility of contemporary relevance, if only as a metaphor (All Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre: reframing global strategic discord through polyphony? 2007)

  11. From these perspectives, it is appropriate to recognize the huge importance attached to song in the Caucasus and its cultures -- and the impressive capacity for it there. The question is how to use that capacity between competing cultures. Competing choral "voices" engendering a larger polyphony?

  12. In a world weary of conventional negotiations and the language of proposals, there are many provocative initiatives to reframe strategic approaches -- some of them with an aesthetic dimension (Liberating Provocations use of negative and paradoxical strategies, 2005). For example, reports were recently circulated of a "breakaway republic" -- the Ghetto Republic of Uganja -- in one of the slums in Uganda's capital, complete with a full set of "cabinet ministers". It was formed around a politically influential dancehall.

  13. Negotiations are typically about controversial issues on which opposing views are strongly held. This is ideal thematic material to be processed (even competitively) by poets (singers, musicians) to explore modes of their harmonious integration -- perhaps using the discordant elements to enhance the "colour" of the work. Such contributions, occasional made for light relief at conferences, could be taken more seriously in offering complementary insights to negotiators and their constituencies.

  14. Of related potential, in many Islamic cultures, is the appreciation for the tales of Nasruddin. These raise the possibility of strategic dialogue through the wisdom of such folk tales. Recognized as "teaching stories", there is a tradition of their use in dialogue between opposing perspectives.

  15. Of particular interest are widespread assumptions about the structure, nature and communicability of the outcomes of negotiations between one or more opposing perspectives. In a world characterized by "innovation" in every domain, the structure of binding declarations and agreements has varied little over centuries. As indicated above with respect to "singable" declarations, there are other possibilities that merit consideration in order to invite respect and popular engagement (Structure of Declarations: challenging traditional patterns, 1992, Structuring Mnemonic Encoding of Development Plans and Ethical Charters using Musical Leitmotivs, 2001). The purpose of such initiatives is to embed mnemonic resonances between the elements of the structure -- reflective of feedback loops vital to their viability and sustainability.

  16. Whilst potential agreement might be fruitfully scoped out -- perhaps as competing drafts -- of greater interest is the possibility of designing the outcome in "epic form". The proposed EU Lisbon Reform Treaty (of 300 pages of text) might be considered as an epic struggling to be born and to elicit appeal from the citizens of Europe. It has no aesthetic value at present and no consideration has been given to the possible merit of framing it to give a primary role to the aesthetics that would render it memorable. The challenge of the Western engagement with islamic cultures might be fruitfully seen in the same light. It is the epic form that holds the resonances that sustain credibility, memorability and long-term viability. Briefly, if it cannot be "sung", does it hold sufficient significance to be worthy of communicating to the next generation?

  17. In term of epics on a grander scale, it was noted elsewhere (Happiness and Unhappiness through Naysign and Nescience: comprehending the essence of sustainability? ) that in relation to the Caucasus that the Nart Sagas are a set of folk tales originating from regions of the North Caucasus -- currently of great political sensitivity, namely the Ossetians and the Circassian peoples, closely followed by the related Abkhaz and Abazin people. Nart Sagas are also present in Karachay-Balkar and Chechen-Ingush folklore. Some motifs in these sagas are shared by Greek mythology. It has also been speculated that many aspects of the much-valued Arthurian legends are derived from those sagas. Clearly there are common imaginative roots to be explored

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